Former Road Rules and The Challenge star Susie Meister is speaking out about her reality TV experience and the horrors that happen behind the scenes “when people stop being polite and start getting real.” In a new essay for Salon, Susie wrote about the abuse and misogyny female cast members are often subjected to.
Susie made her MTV debut in 1998 on ‘Road Rules: Australia’ and from there, she went on to participate in five seasons of ‘The Challenge’ and another season of ‘Road Rules.’ While the former TV fixture doesn’t deny the positive experiences the reality shows brought her (including meeting her husband, Adam Butler, who worked in the sound department for MTV), she’s also not afraid to tell her side of the reality TV scene and the misogyny, assaults and hostile work environments that often come with it.
“I appeared on seven seasons of MTV reality shows, and often refer to my relationship with the genre as an abusive one,” she writes. “I knew I was participating in something unsavory, but I kept coming back for more… ”
Sure, appearing on ‘The Challenge’ came with perks—financial gain, free travel and a major rush—but Susie said female contestants had to deal with plenty of negatives that came with appearing as well. In her piece, she writes that she had to witness producers favoring, coddling and excusing male cast members’ abusive behavior.
“They were treated with a wink of the boys-will-be-boys variety, and to complain meant being marginalized, at risk of receiving a ‘bad edit’ and almost certainly relegated to the where-are-they now category of the Hollywood Z-list,” she said.
Susie says she witnessed women on ‘The Challenge’ be subjected to a much different experience to that of their male cast mates… one of sexual aggression, unwelcome nudity and unwanted touching, along with the reminder that there was a line of people waiting to take your place if you decided to voice your issues.
This misogyny, she said, became more evident while filming ‘The Ruins.’
“Many of the men in the house referred to female cast and crew members as sluts and whores (in place of traditional of terms of endearment), would routinely smack our behinds, place their faces in our crotches as a ‘joke’ and mercilessly mock us for any perceived inadequacies,” she writes.
The abuse was made worse by co-ed bedroom and bathroom arrangements, she said, and the fact that women on the show are often expected to be accessories while the men get the glory… meanwhile, many male cast members walk around the house naked, pull off bikini tops and critique the women’s bodies.
“You tolerate micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions as a normal condition of employment, to the delight of millions of viewers — and you wonder why we have problems behind closed doors, in board rooms or congressional offices,” she writes.
Susie said she also tolerated the behavior because it grew subtly over time and for fear of retribution for being the whistle blower.
Anyone who has watched an episode of ‘The Challenge’ knows that contestants party hard—in the house, at local clubs and basically any time they aren’t competing.
“The prevalence of alcohol, and the way its consumption is encouraged by producers, creates an environment that is ripe for abusive behavior,” Susie writes. “The men who binge drink and engage in bloody brawls are rewarded with invitations to return as ‘all-stars,’ while women who behave similarly are referred to as ‘crazy.’”
Susie’s latest comments follow a 2014 piece she wrote detailing the darker days of her reality TV stint, including an incident involving a male cast mate drunkenly climbing into her bed and leaving only after she “punched him and he fell to the floor.”
In that same 2014 piece, she spoke on an alleged sexual assault that occurred during ‘The Ruins’ — a season Susie appeared on. This event —sometimes called “The Toothbrush Incident” involved Tonya Cooley, Kenny Santucci and Evan Starkman.
In the lawsuit, which ended in an undisclosed settlement that precludes all involved parties from discussing it publicly, Tonya alleged that while passed out drunk, Kenny and Evan sexually assaulted her with a toothbrush. Susie said she wasn’t aware of the incident until the lawsuit was brought forward two years later. Kenny and Evan have not appeared on a season of ‘The Challenge’ since the lawsuit.
Now, seven years out from her last reality show appearance, she feels a connection to the recent stories revealed by women (and some men) who were silenced by men in power, particularly in the entertainment industry. She says she’s also familiar with the choices they were faced to make between keeping the peace and standing up to these abusive “boys being boys.”
Since putting the kibosh on her reality TV career, Susie earned a PhD in Religious Studies and became a mom. She currently hosts The Brain Candy Podcast with fellow MTV-alum Sarah Rice and has a religion blog.
(Photos: Instagram, MTV)